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Martz v. Camden County Board Of Chosen Freeholders

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 23, 2017

MICHAEL LEE MARTZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CAMDEN COUNTY BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS; SCOTT MCCRAY AND EIGHT OTHER UNKNOWN FREEHOLDERS; WARDENS TAYLOR AND OWENS OF THE CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; C.C.C.F, Defendants.

          Michael Lee Martz, Plaintiff Pro Se

          OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Michael Lee Martz seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Scott McCray and the other Camden County Freeholders (collectively “Freeholders”), and Camden County Correctional Facility (“CCCF”) Wardens Taylor and Owens for allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement in CCCF. Complaint, Docket Entry 1. At this time, the Court must review the complaint to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the complaint will proceed in part.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The following factual allegations are taken from the complaint and are accepted for purposes of this screening only. The Court has made no findings as to the truth of Plaintiff's allegations.

         Plaintiff alleges he endured unconstitutional conditions of confinement in CCCF during two periods of pretrial detention: July 5, 2015 to December 2015 and either January or February 2016. Complaint ¶ 6. During these times, Plaintiff was housed in a two-person cell with three other people. Id. ¶ 6(a). He states the cell toilet was unsanitary, and he was forced to sleep on the floor. Id. ¶ 6(b). He also states there was inadequate ventilation, unsanitary food and food preparation, and inadequate access to the courts “either by restricted use of legal library or understaffing of the public defender's office.” Id. ¶ 6(d)-(f). He alleges all defendants “allowed and did nothing to stop” the unconstitutional conditions, id. ¶ 6, and that they “knew or should have known” about the living conditions, id. ¶ 4(b)-(c). He seeks relief in the form of monetary compensation. He has also filed a motion asking the Court to order CCCF to provide him with 10 hours per week of unrestricted law library time. Motion for Library Time, Docket Entry 1-3 at 3.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Standards for a Sua Sponte Dismissal

         Per the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996) (“PLRA”), district courts must review complaints in those civil actions in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), or brings a claim with respect to prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The PLRA directs district courts to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, is malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. This action is subject to sua sponte screening for dismissal under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915, 1915A and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e because Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis and is seeking redress from government officials about the conditions of his confinement.

         According to the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, “a pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim, the complaint must allege “sufficient factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. Fowler v. UPMS Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Moreover, while pro se pleadings are liberally construed, they “still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).

         B. Section 1983 Actions

         The complaint could also be reasonably construed as attempting to raise a First Amendment denial of access to the courts claim. Plaintiff alleges that he was denied access to the law library and that the public defender's office was understaffed.

         “To establish a cognizable [access to the courts] claim, a prisoner must demonstrate that he has suffered an actual injury to his ability to present a claim.” Henry v. Moore, 500 F.App'x 115, 117 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415 (2002)). Additionally, “the claim must relate to either a direct or collateral challenge to the prisoner's sentence or ...


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